2021 Trials Vision: Regan Smith Leads Extremely Deep Field in Women’s 100 Backstroke

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Regan Smith. Photo Courtesy: PATRICK B. KRAEMER

Each day during the pre-scheduled days of the 2020 US Olympic Trials, Swimming World will take its readers back four years to the 2016 Trials in Omaha to recap each event, and will offer some insight into what the events will look like in the 2021 Trials.

The women’s 100 backstroke at the 2016 Olympic Trials was an epic race, but the sport might have more buzz for what is going to happen in 2021.

Legends Natalie Coughlin and Missy Franklin were unseated four years ago by Olivia Smoliga and Kathleen Baker. Both are back hoping not to be unseated this time around, but it won’t be easy at the 2021 Trials.

Teen phenom Regan Smith took the world by storm in 2019, breaking the world record in the 100 backstroke while leading off the victorious medley relay at the World Championships.

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Regan Smith – Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

The Favorite

It of course is not a certainty that Regan Smith will make her first Olympic team, but at this time she is the only clear-cut favorite. After all, she is the world record holder, clocking a 57.57 in Gwangju, South Korea, last year.

But it wasn’t just that race. Since the start of 2019, Smith has the five fastest times in the U.S., including three swims that broke the world junior record.

Like Franklin in 2012, the world is just at the edge of their seats waiting to see if Smith can replicate her world championship performance in an Olympic year, starting at the 2021 Trials.

The Contenders

Even if Smith were to put together another epic performance at the 2021 Trials, that leaves one spot remaining — and a multitude of contenders exist. For decades, this has been one of the deepest race in women’s swimming, and this Olympic cycle is no different.

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Olivia Smoliga; Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

For starters, the two defending Olympians will return. Kathleen Baker won the silver medal four years ago, while Olivia Smoliga won at the Trials and finished sixth in Rio. They were at the top of the sport and the stroke before Smith crashed the party. Baker is the second-fastest U.S. performer since the start of 2019 at 58.56 and Smoliga, who launched a medal-winning assault at Worlds, is fourth (58.73).

But there are other contenders extremely capable of getting their hand on the wall first or second.

Another teen upstart, Phoebe Bacon, has the third-fastest time in the event since the start of 2019 with a 58.63, while Claire Curzan has been a minute flat at the 2019 world junior championships.

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Phoebe Bacon; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Then there is the veteran Amy Bilquist, who missed the 2016 Olympics by a single spot in the event, then won the U.S. national championship in 2019 at 59.64 despite swimming with a broken hand. She has continued to get better and had a huge 2019 with the title, as well as her best NCAA performance at Cal, then starting as a pro in the International Swimming League (ISL).

Meanwhile, another veteran, Ali DeLoof, who finished fourth in 2016, went on to set a short-course American record. Her best time since 2019 started was 1:00.10, but she has not had a big taper meet in a while, with her focus on the 2021 Trials.

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Ali DeLoof; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The Longshots

These next swimmers are only considered longshots because of the incredible depth and experience of the previous mentioned, but they are really just more contenders.

Katharine Berkoff went a 59.29 at 2019 World University Games and Isabelle Stadden has been as fast as 59.71 since 2019 started, launching herself to that time at a 2019 TYR Pro Swim Series meet.

Meanwhile, pro Lisa Bratton has been a strong backstroker for years and always seems to be hanging around waiting for that huge swim.

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Beata Nelson; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Wisconsin’s Beata Nelson also has been an NCAA champion in this event, but so far her success has not translated to long course at the same level, but things could change at the 2021 Trials.

Looking Ahead to 2021

With Smith as the world-record holder, medals for the U.S. are far from out of the question. Smith, Baker and Smoliga all look like they could be poised to be on the medal stand in Tokyo — but of course only two will go, and that might not even include them.

The field is stacked in the U.S., then you add Canada’s Kylie Masse and Taylor Ruck, and Australia’s Minna Atherton as well as Italy’s Margherita Panziera, that reigning gold medalist Katinka Hosszu might not even swim the event in 2021. But of course, she is a medal contender in several events. But the U.S. outpouring in this event is a big reason why this might not be Hosszu’s best chance to get on the podium.

It also might be the deepest event in the entire world. Who will join the party at the 2021 Trials?

2021 Trials Vision:

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